Last Friday morning, my 4-year old locked me and her twin sister out of the house. This wasn’t an accident — she did it on purpose.
Here’s how it happened. Every morning, I round up my three little ladies and usher them out the door at 7:45, so my eldest daughter can catch the bus to school. The stop is just across the street, but we must leave the house by then. As the bus pulls away, I buckle my twins in their car seats and drive them to pre-K before I head to work.
On this particular morning, my 4-year-old was throwing a tantrum because she wanted more chips in her snack bag. I explain I can talk to her about it as we walk to the bus stop, but she’s crying uncontrollably in the hallway. I calmly say, “You can stay here while I get big sister on the bus, or you can come with us. It’s your choice.” She continues to sob, and blubbers, “I can’t walk!” I guess this is my signal to pick her up and carry her to the bus stop, but time is of the essence.
Unceremoniously, I close the front door behind me, leaving her alone in the hallway. Once big sister is safely deposited aboard the bus, I turn my attention to packing up the car for the twins’ drop-off. As I approach our front door, the thought briefly flits through my mind, “I bet she locked the door” — a notion confirmed when I try to come inside. The knob turns, but the deadbolt is engaged.
I am not shocked: This girl is a mini-version of me, but better. We are cut from the same cloth; this is something I probably would have done as a kid had I been brazen enough. It’s something I would have thought about doing, but wouldn’t have actually done because I had a healthy fear of the fallout. But my little one is bolder and braver than I ever was. I typically love this quality about her, but this was not an ideal situation.
Fortunately, my next-door neighbor has a key to my house. But I make two trips there and nobody answers. My phone is inside, too, so calling a locksmith, or my husband who works an hour away, are not easy options.
So, like any sane parent, I start knocking on the door loudly and ringing the bell incessantly with the combined force of every kid selling overpriced candy for a school fundraiser. It’s before 8 in the morning, so I don’t want to yell and alarm the neighbors or my daughters. But I’m using my firm “mom voice” and declaring, “I need you to unlock the door.”
Through the window, I can see my daughter at the top of the stairs, still in the middle of a body-convulsing tantrum. I’m thinking about my 9 a.m. meeting and how late I will be for work as I see her timidly go down a step or two. But when I acknowledge her progress towards the front door, she dashes right back upstairs and starts throwing her body around again. Worries about my meeting are replaced with the fear that she’ll fall down the stairs — I could practically picture her injured and lifeless at the bottom of the steps, and me breaking a window to get to her.
But then conscious parenting kicks in. I remember what my kid really wants is my love and attention. If I remove myself from this situation — play it cool — she will come to me. So I quietly sit down on the front stoop with her twin sister. She is cold, so I give her my blazer, and notice how adorable she looks like a teeny, tiny professional with my blazer and her little glasses. I figure at some point my daughter will take herself out of this self-imposed hostage situation because she’ll get hungry. Worse comes to worse, we’ll be out here until lunch. Then I hear a small click unlocking the door.
The whole ordeal took less than 10 minutes.
Without much ado, I go inside and finish prepping for the morning. My whirling dervish is still holed up in her room, crying. Then, like every parent who has done the walk of shame out of a public space, I pick her up and, doing my best to handle her flailing body and ignore her bawling, I wrangle her in her into her car seat.
Between the mix of tears, snot, and saliva she howls, “I need love!” And there is it. So I unbuckle her, pick her up, hold her close and give her a cuddle in the tight space between the open car door and garage. This is what she needs most. Actually — we both do.
She calms down, and as I buckle her in, I explain the importance of unlocked doors for safety. “How would you feel if you got hurt and I couldn’t get to you?”
Between hiccuping breaths, she says “That would be bad Mama. I’m so sorry.” I reassure her she’s not in trouble, and praise her for unlocking the door.
I start to feel like the rest of our morning together will go smoothly. Still, the need for some sort of consequence nags me. I’m about to close the car door and walk around to the driver side, when I hear a quiet, “Where are my chips?”
Aha! A natural consequence presents itself. “Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get your chips,” I explain. “I need good listening in the morning, so you’ll get chips this afternoon.”
And so, the theatrics start all over again. The soundtrack to our drive consists of sobs and pleas, which continue even after we arrive at school. She was distraught, but I achieved the right outcome. I was not late for drop-off or work, and my 4-year-old learned locking the door will not help her cause. Yes, the chips were sacrificed, but there are worse things, like a broken bone or a smashed first- floor window.
And maybe I’ll give a spare key to a second neighbor, just in case.